In the interest of preserving and celebrating our illustrious history of over 150 years, The Fourth Crown presents the first of a 2,928,608 part series, FLASHBACK, chronicling the most important events in Gustavus Adolphus College’s history.
Our first installment reminisces one of the Gustavus men’s track team’s greatest achievements: the record-breaking run of the 4×800 meter relay in 2010, featuring the return to the world of lead runner and 35th President of the United States, John Kennedy.
Coming back from what doctors then called a career-ending head injury in 1963, Kennedy shocked all in attendance at the Saint Mary’s University hosted 2010 MIAC Championships. After training in secret for nearly fifty years, Kennedy showed up fifteen minutes before the bus left for Winona.
Coach Dale Bahr was the most surprised, telling reporters after the meet, “I was speechless. I mean, we thought his days were over. But that’s the heart of a champion. There’s a reason this guy is the only president to win a Pulitzer Prize: He’s a winner that will stop at nothing.”
Once they arrived at the meet, Kennedy’s return sparked immediate concern for officials. Regarding the gray areas of the rules Kennedy’s return brought, MIAC Executive Director Dan McKane said, “It was just so unprecedented, to be honest. This is a student who hasn’t been seen, no less registered as a student, since 1963. But we had to make a split-second decision, and we decided to let him run.”
Once the ruling was made, Kennedy’s return to the sport inspired the relay team. Teammate Carson Smith said, “His leadership skills are unparalleled—something I hadn’t ever encountered in my collegiate career. You could tell from his demeanor and swagger that he was built for this kind of moment. His experiences with the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and an affair with Marilyn Monroe were so valuable for this team. He lives for the big moments.”
Leading off the relay, Kennedy immediately asserted himself among the leaders, mirroring his promises to keep the United States ahead in the space race. Keeping in stride with rivals from St. Olaf and St. John’s, Kennedy kept the Gustavus relay team within reach of the MIAC Championship and the record.
Coach Bahr said, “It was an electrifying start to the race. It wasn’t the best time we’d seen from him all year, but it’s the gutsy performance that I personally love to see.”
The relay team eventually finished third in the conference that day, but they broke the record for that race—a record that has stood since. Smith said, “If you had told me that I’d be running with the guy who is on the fifty-cent piece, I’d have called you a liar. But that’s what sports are all about—the impossible.”
Kennedy’s run will forever be remembered at Gustavus. Although no one has seen the president since, his legacy continues to inspire. As he told with his teammates before the race, “Ask not what your college can do for you, ask what you can do for your college.”